Now that I seem to be well on the road to recovery from my prostatectomy (fingers still firmly crossed), I appear to have developed a new and little known condition. In fact, this may be completely new to medical science. I’m now suffering from OWS – Odonata Withdrawal Symptoms. I only became hooked on Dragonflies (I use that term to include damselflies) two years ago and I miss them when they are not around. Unfortunately, they are not around for the majority of the year. Depending on species, their season is essentially April to October though their population is not large at those extremes. Some flight seasons technically cover March to November but I’ve yet to see that.
Anyway, after a lengthy and cold winter, I decided to pop into my local patch, Sandhouse Lane Nature Reserve, to see if I could spot any activity. At first, as usual, the answer was “absolutely none”. That’s the initial reaction until one gets ones eye in, though. There was certainly no Odonata presence that I could discern but, by standing still and observing, eventually one starts to notice things. I think the eye has to remember how to spot small signs of life.
As with our trip to the New Forest recently, the small lake was home to many Pond Skaters (Gerridae) frantically skating about doing their “I can walk on water” trick looking for a smaller creature for lunch. They are predatory, after all. I didn’t catch one doing anything terribly exciting but here’s one for the record. There were also several Whirligig Beetles that were “whirligigging” far too fast for my reactions, or my camera’s autofocus reaction-time, to catch.
With just a small interruption for me to slip on the muddy bank in my hopelessly smooth trainers, sit unceremoniously in the mud and immerse one foot in the water, I stood there for about half an hour watching. There seemed to be slow but deliberate movement on the bottom of the lake where small collections of leaf matter appeared to be ambulatory. The water was very clear and I eventually snapped one of the culprits, a Caddis Fly (Trichoptera) larva , with its head and a pair of legs protruding from the front of its cleverly built shelter. You can just see it in the photo (near right) beneath the unidentified aquatic plant. While I stood [Ed: makes a pleasant change.] watching them a bigger critter swam by submerged. At first I thought frog but it turns out to be a Common Toad (Bufo bufo).
Not content with Pond Skaters imitating well-known founders of religious movements, a spider wanted to get in on the act as well. This character, as yet unknown, was even faster moving about the surface of the water than the Pond Skaters. While I was struggling to get the spider in focus, I spotted movement at the very edge of the pond where a very furry critter with a very long proboscis was hovering about. I subsequently discovered that this character was a Bee-fly (Bombylius major), not unusual but new to me. When I got home I found we had the same critters in our back garden.
Since I have the luxury of close-focus rings at home, I’ve augmented my Sandhouse Lane Bee-fly with a couple of clearer pictures of a Bee-fly from chez nous. It’s perhaps a little self-indulgent showing two; the shot on a bush is more natural but I just cannot resist the eerie shadow cast by it sitting on our paving slabs. Very obliging of it.
Amazing what you spot once you get your eye in. Clearly my local patch was waking up to the new season but I’ve got to keep checking for those elusive first Dragonflies.